If you haven’t seen a blazing hillside of California poppies in the last few weeks, you just aren’t paying attention — or going to the right places. Drive to a park in just about any direction away from downtown Los Angeles, and you’re bound to see one of the best wildflower displays in decades.
Some blooms may last longer than others but it’s best to go soon if you want to see the big show.
The western end of the Santa Monica Mountains are popping with California poppies, lupine, blue dicks and other wildflowers.
Zachary Behrens, senior communications fellow for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, recommends a hike up the Ray Miller Trail in Point Mugu State Park in Ventura County. “You can't beat five miles of hiking along wildflowers and nonstop ocean views, can you?” he writes in an email.
The sweet spot for wildflowers is the La Jolla Valley, where you’ll find native California grasses too, but that requires a longer hike. Get there on foot by taking the Ray Miller Trail to the Overlook Fire Road from the La Jolla Canyon turnoff on Highway 1.
You also can drive a little farther, west of Mugu Rock, and climb up the steep Chumash Trail to access the valley. Or you can head to Mugu Peak from the Chumash Trail too; flowers are pretty much all over this area right now. (The most direct canyon trail to La Jolla Valley has been closed since 2015 because of storm damage.)
Here’s a trail map of the park that shows where to start your hike. Park entrances along Highway 1 are about 15 miles south of Oxnard.
Info: Point Mugu State Park
The Antelope Valley California State Poppy Reserve in Lancaster wasn't expecting much this wildflower season. The surprise came in mid-March when pockets of poppies unfurled in their golden glory.
A little more rain and moderate temperatures kept everything in balance. Now, intense streaks of orange can be seen on the high desert hillsides on the reserve's eastern side. You can walk right up to them (but not through them, please) on a 1.5-mile hike to Vista Point.
Colors become more intense the closer you get, and look too for soft purple hillsides (lacy phacelia) and patches of yellow (goldfields). The bloom is expected to last until mid-April.
The reserve recommends visiting during the week. Swarms of weekend visitors have caused parking lots to temporarily close and traffic jams at the entrance on Lancaster Road. And don’t bring your dog; they’re not allowed.
To avoid the crush, stop alongside nearby roads where there are brilliant displays too. Just take care to pull off the shoulder and not impede traffic. One more tip: Take San Francisquito Canyon instead of Highway 14 as you head to Lancaster. It’s a road through greened-up hills that passes by Lake Elizabeth.
Info: Antelope Valley California State Poppy Reserve,15101 Lancaster Rd, Lancaster; (661) 724-1180
Every week in spring, the Wild Flower Hotline run by the Theodore Payne Foundation in Sun Valley points wildflower lovers to good viewing places.
Recent recommendations have included Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Park in San Juan Capistrano, which has California poppies but also varieties of lupine, bright red coastal paintbrush and big white swords of chaparral yucca. The place to see it all is the East Ridge Trail.
Info: Caspers Wilderness Park, 33401 Ortega Highway, San Juan Capistrano; (949) 923-2210
Poppies are showy now in other parts of Orange County too: Walker Canyon in Lake Elsinore (very near Interstate 15) and Weir and Santiago canyons.
You can access the Wild Flower Hotline online or by calling (818) 768-1802, Ext. 7.